Chinese buyer says solar firm MiaSole will expand

Jan 09, 2013 by Joe Mcdonald
Company executives look at thin-film solar panels developed by MiaSole before a press conference held at the headquarters of Hanergy Group in Beijing, China, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. Hanergy Group, the Chinese company that bought MiaSole, a California producer of thin-film solar panels, said it can make a success of the emerging technology where others have suffered huge losses. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)

(AP)—The Chinese company that bought MiaSole, a California producer of thin-film solar panels, says it can make the emerging technology successful where others have suffered huge losses.

Hanergy Group's strong finances will help MiaSole invest in research and ride out a downturn in the global solar market, while its links to customers in China and abroad will help build sales, chairman Li Hejun said Wednesday. Hanergy says it is China's biggest privately owned renewable energy company, with interests in hydro, wind and solar power.

"We firmly believe in the prospects of this company and this industry," Li said at a news conference.

MiaSole, in Santa Clara, California, was one of several well-funded U.S. startups that invested in thin film, which is more efficient than traditional silicon cells. But they struggled after a plunge in prices of silicon cells due to a glut of supply from China hurt sales of the new technology. Producers including Solyndra, Beacon Power and Abound Solar filed for bankruptcy.

Hanergy bought MiaSole late last year from that financed it. The sale formally closed Wednesday.

The acquisition reflects a growing trend for Chinese companies, flush with cash from the country's boom, to speed their development by acquiring foreign technology and brands in industries from computers to cars to tourism.

Hanergy has pledged to retain MiaSole's U.S. workforce of about 100 people. Li said the Chinese owner will invest in research and hire additional American staff.

Last June, Hanergy also bought a German thin-film producer, Solibro, a unit of bankrupt solar panel maker Q-Cells.

Li Hejun, chairman and CEO of Hanergy Group, attends a press conference held at the company's headquarters in Beijing, China, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. The Chinese company that bought Miasole, a California producer of thin-film solar panels, says it can make a success of the emerging technology where others have suffered huge losses. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)

Li, who founded Hanergy in 1994 to build and operate , declined to specify how much it paid for MiaSole but said it was about one-tenth of the initial $1.2 billion asking price. News reports last year put the price at $30 million, but Li said that was only what Hanergy agreed to repay to MiaSole's creditors as part of the purchase.

MiaSole's backers invested more than $550 million in the company.

Producers of solar equipment were battered by a collapse in prices in 2009-10 after Chinese government grants and other support encouraged hundreds of small producers to flood into the market over the past decade.

China's biggest producers of silicon cells have reported hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. Smaller producers have closed and industry analysts expect more mergers and bankruptcies as Beijing tries to reduce overcapacity.

Communist leaders see solar power as a way to help curb surging demand for fossil fuels and create better-paid technology jobs.

The government plans to add 10 gigawatts of solar generating capacity this year, the director of the National Energy Administration, Liu Tienan, said at a conference this week, according to a text of his remarks released Wednesday.

The government said in October it wants to generate 30 percent of China's power from solar, wind and other renewable sources, as well as from nuclear energy, by the end of 2015. That was an increase over an earlier target of 15 percent from renewables plus 5 percent from nuclear by 2020.

Beijing's support for manufacturers of traditional silicon solar cells has prompted complaints by the United States and Europe that it is violating free-trade rules.

Li acknowledged his company is "going against the tide" of a market that favors silicon. But he said the renewable energy market should rebound late this year or in early 2014, boosting demand for thin film. He said the more advanced technology required to make it means small suppliers cannot rush in as they did with silicon, which was easier to make.

CEO of MiaSole John Carrignton, left, shows a piece of a thin-film solar panel, while Zhou Jiesan, right, an executive of Hanergy Group, watches during a press conference held at the headquarters of Hanergy Group in Beijing, China, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. The Chinese company that bought Miasole, a California producer of thin-film solar panels, said it can make a success of the emerging technology where others have suffered huge losses. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)

Hanergy began as a dam operator and says it now has 6 gigawatts of hydro generating capacity. It later added wind farms and launched a business in 2009 to build and operate facilities.

Li said the MiaSole acquisition was paid for out of cash flow from Hanergy's hydro and wind energy businesses of several billion yuan (several hundred million dollars) a year.

"We don't have to worry about money," he said.

MiaSole and Solibro make thin film of a compound called CIGS, for the metals copper, indium, gallium and selenide. It can be sandwiched between sheets of glass that can be used as tinted windows on a building or integrated into flexible material for use on rooftops.

MiaSole shipped thin-film glass panels with a total generating capacity of 50 megawatts last year and plans to start selling the flexible product this year, said John Carrington, the company's CEO. He said it sees the United States, India, Japan and the Middle East as promising markets.

The company expects to reduce prices to below 50 cents per watt of generating capacity by next year, cheaper than even the current depressed price of , Carrington said. He said it eventually wants to cut that to 33 cents.

MiaSole's owners concluded last year it needed a partner that could supply financing and line up generation projects, Carrington said. He said that while prices of solar cells are depressed, developers that can supply completed projects are very profitable.

"The opportunity for us to have a broader offering is very compelling," Carrington said.

Hanergy announced an agreement in September to outfit IKEA stores in Britain with thin-film . Li said the company is pursuing possible similar deals with retailers in the United States.

As for whether the tie-up with Hanergy might make MiaSole eligible for Chinese research grants or other aid, Carrington said, "It's hard to tell. We're not sure yet."

Explore further: Panasonic, Tesla to build big US battery plant

More information: Hanergy Group: www.hanergy.com/locale.do?language=en&country=US
MiaSole: www.miasole.com

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

China to overhaul struggling solar panel industry

Dec 20, 2012

(AP)—China's government says it will encourage mergers among producers of solar panels to strengthen an industry that has suffered huge losses due to excess production capacity and price-cutting wars.

China says US energy projects violate free trade

Aug 21, 2012

(AP) — China's government has ruled that U.S. government support to six American solar and wind power projects violates free trade rules, adding to strains between Beijing and its trading partners over renewable energy.

China launches probe of European solar silicon

Nov 01, 2012

China announced an anti-dumping probe Thursday of European exports of polysilicon used in making solar panels, adding to a flurry of trade disputes with the European Union and the United States.

China solar panel makers see boost from Copenhagen

Dec 03, 2009

In Trina Solar's brilliant white factory in eastern China, masked workers in lab coats turn silicon wafers into solar power cells capable of harnessing the sun's clean and limitless energy.

Recommended for you

Panasonic, Tesla to build big US battery plant

48 minutes ago

(AP)—American electric car maker Tesla Motors Inc. is teaming up with Japanese electronics company Panasonic Corp. to build a battery manufacturing plant in the U.S. expected to create 6,500 jobs.

Simulation models optimize water power

1 hour ago

The Columbia River basin in the Pacific Northwest offers great potential for water power; hydroelectric power stations there generate over 20 000 megawatts already. Now a simulation model will help optimize the operation ...

Charging electric cars efficiently inductive

1 hour ago

We already charge our toothbrushes and cellphones using contactless technology. Researchers have developed a particularly efficient and cost-effective method that means electric cars could soon follow suit.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

VendicarD
1 / 5 (1) Jan 09, 2013
Emerging Chinese Energy conglomerates don't need to worry about money, but American Conservatives are counting every nickle and dime as they force companies like Solyndra to collapse without supplemental funding.

"Li said the MiaSole acquisition was paid for out of cash flow from Hanergy's hydro and wind energy businesses of several billion yuan (several hundred million dollars) a year. "We don't have to worry about money," he said." - Article
frajo
not rated yet Jan 09, 2013
Hanergy has pledged to retain MiaSole's U.S. workforce of about 100 people. Li said the Chinese owner will invest in research and hire additional American staff.
That's good for American jobs.
MiaSole's owners concluded last year it needed a partner that could supply financing and line up generation projects
Now they are owners no more. That's good for American jobs, too.